Italy 1-0 England (Raspadori 68′)

SAN SIRO — England relegated! Sack Gareth Southgate now! Bring in Mauricio Pochettino for the remainder of the Nations League, hope he can steady the ship, then see what he can do in Qatar!

That is, of course, ridiculous. But you do wonder sometimes if England fans and pundits really would prefer to see #SouthgateOut before the World Cup kicks off in two months’ time, however preposterous the suggestion may be.

Even before the defeat to Italy in Milan on Friday night that sealed England’s rather meaningless Nations League fate, it was as though minds had been made up that Southgate, who has presided over one of the all-time successful periods as the national team’s manager, is coming to the end of his tenure. That England under Southgate may as well not bother turning up in Qatar. Put everyone out of our misery now.

There’s this kind of wonderfully paradoxical psyche that has always existed around the England team: nothing but winning the World Cup or European Championship is good enough, yet the team is perennially rubbish, constantly unable to shake off a cloud of doom and gloom, always on the verge of failure.

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No sooner had England lost on penalties in the Euro 2020 final last summer, they were torn to pieces, seemingly forgotten that the team were 23 of the 90 minutes away from glory, and only a penalty shootout separated them and the eventual winners.

The last camp, when they lost twice to Hungary and drew with Italy and Germany, sharpened knives. A failure to score against Italy and tight defeat on Friday night will no doubt see them plunged into Southgate again over the weekend.

If you glanced at the internet during half-time, it was already a disaster: boring, uninspiring, the tactics were wrong, players were out of position, and bar Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham the rest were useless. Don’t get me wrong, there are far better things to be doing on a Friday night than sitting through that 45 minutes of football, but England were level with the reigning European Champions in Italy, where they have not won since 1961. And first halves of football often don’t contain 45 breathless minutes.

Sure enough, the game opened up in the second half.

Player ratings

Italy (5-3-2): Donnarumma 7, Toloi 7, Bonucci 7, Acerbi 6, Di Lorenzo 6, Barella 6 (Pobega 6), Jorginho 7 (Fratessi N/A), Cristante 6, Dimarco 8 (Emerson N/A), Raspadori 8 (Gabbiadini 6), Scamacca 6 (Gnonto 6)

England (3-4-3): Pope 6, Walker 5 (Shaw 6), Dier 6, Maguire 5, James 6, Rice 6, Bellingham 7, Saka 5 (Grealish 6), Sterling 6, Foden 7, Kane 6

With only one game remaining until the World Cup, now is definitely the time to start drawing conclusions about Southgate’s team. One certainty is that Bellingham is ready. In the absence of the injured Kalvin Phillips, who was so excellent in a central midfield pairing with Declan Rice at the European Championships, 19-year-old Bellingham made his 11th competitive appearance for England, drawing level with Michael Owen and only six games behind Wayne Rooney for the most international games played by an English teenager. Were England to go all the way in Qatar and Bellingham play in every game, he would move one clear of Rooney.

And Harry Maguire got 90 minutes of mostly solid football. There were positive chants for Maguire from the contingent of England travelling fans high up in the San Siro rafters before kick-off. A welcome change from the boos from his own supporters that for a while haunted him wherever he played, for club or country.

It did fail to prevent some early nerves and in a panicked moment in the opening few minutes Giacomo Raspadori ran on to a ball over the top and found himself in behind the Manchester United defender. Maguire frantically appealed for off-side and when no flag was raised tried desperately to wrestle Raspadori away from the ball, but was unable to prevent the Italian getting a shot away.

It was well-saved by Nick Pope, and Maguire yelled furiously at the linesman, who did eventually indicate it was offside and wouldn’t have counted. But the hint of desperation from Maguire perhaps shows how under pressure he feels, despite backing from Southgate and captain Harry Kane on the eve of the match.

But Maguire — along with the rest of the England team — seemed to settle into the match, and after an aggressive opening flurry from Italy, Roberto Mancini’s side had only one shot in the remainder of the half. Eric Dier, playing for England for the first time almost two years after impressing for Tottenham, was a calming influence in the middle of a back three.

It was only really one major lapse that cost them. A great long ball over the top from Leonardo Bonucci, Raspardori managed to get in behind Kyle Walker (something that rarely happens to England’s fastest defender). The Italian’s first touch was wonderful, and when he cut back and shaped to shoot Walker gave him far too much space to find the far corner.

So it wasn’t a great result. It’s far from ideal preparation. England are rubbish but they must still also win the World Cup. And it’s surely time for Southgate to go.

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